Do Not Forget

by Maira Álvarez

In 1945, right after the end of WWII, countries around the world came together to form the United Nations to “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person…” It took a global war to bring together nations in order to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and proclaimed it as such by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on December 10, 1948. Under the supervision of Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, then former First Lady of the United States, the thirty articles listed in this declaration came to be. Among those articles is number five, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” as well as number six, “Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law” and fourteen, “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution…” The reason I selected these three, although I can easily add several others, is that for the past few months the escalation of dehumanization against families who reached the United States – Mexico border seeking asylum is devastating.

If people have the right to be treated with respect why are these families #TornApart #Separados once they cross to the United States? Why children are placed in cages as if they were animals? If people have the right to recognition as a person before the law, why parents are being treated as criminals and their children placed in military camps, prisons and detention centers? If people have the right to seek asylum, in this instance due to turmoil in their respective country, are denied one for not providing official documentation or due to their race, national or social origin? Article two clearly states, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind… Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs…” Why then was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights written? Doesn’t the United States Declaration of Independence shares similar views? Wasn’t this country involved in its creation? Immigrants seeking freedom from tyranny founded the United States by colonizing a land that belongs to natives of this territory in order to have a better future.

I arrived to this country at age ten with my parents after years of waiting for resident approval. I am an immigrant with privilege since my family was not fleeing violence, war, persecution or poverty. Even under these circumstances I was scarred by the experience and cannot begin to imagine the trauma these children will have to live with. I grew up at the Laredo, Texas border. I did not know what the border patrol (aka migra) was and did not understood why there were boats and helicopters surveillance along the Río Bravo. I still have engraved in my ten-year-old memories like a photo shot the faces of young men going through our neighborhood asking for food, medicine and water—not money—to continue their long journey. Little did I know then that they were undocumented immigrants. The closeness of Laredo to México, only a river away, was my safety blanket as a child; it meant home was not far away. However, I learned very soon that the nearness between the two countries was a threat to the government and thus that meant wetbacks, drug dealers, rapist, criminals—the stereotype list is long—were all over the border and justified its militarization. The constant attacks against my community are also an attempt to terrorize those who come to the border seeking a better life in the United States.

As a child you do not understand policies, divisions, politics, hatred or racism. As a child, you rely on your family protection and love to endure adversities. These families who are seeking asylum, who have left their loved ones and everything they owned are now being separated and criminalized. They, as anyone else, are entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yes, the declaration does not have the force of the law; it is optional. But, while the world is watching how this country dismisses the rights we as humans are entitled and granted I decided to stand up for those rights by joining the #TornApart #Separados team since it is also our responsibility to enforce them. Thus, let us not forget that these words were written to hold accountable governments and humankind on their actions. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was, after all, written seven decades ago at the end of a war that threaten these rights.

Maira Álvarez is a Ph.D. Candidate and currently a Research Assistant for the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Houston. Her research interests lie in the study of U.S. Latino, U.S.-Mexico Border, and Latin American Literature as well as Women’s Studies, Latinx Art and Digital Humanities. Along with Sylvia A. Fernández, she founded, in 2017, the Borderlands Archives Cartography (BAC) a project that consists of a digital map that displays U.S.-Mexico border newspapers cartography that records geographic locations of nineteenth and mid-twentieth century periodicals.